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Climate of the Past An interactive open-access journal of the European Geosciences Union
© Author(s) 2016. This work is distributed
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Research article
12 Feb 2016
Review status
This discussion paper is under review for the journal Climate of the Past (CP).
The early Spörer Minimum – a period of extraordinary climate and socio-economic changes in Western and Central Europe
Chantal Camenisch1,2, Kathrin M. Keller1,3, Melanie Salvisberg1,2, Benjamin Amann1,4, Martin Bauch5, Sandro Blumer1,3, Rudolf Brázdil6,7, Stefan Brönnimann1,4, Ulf Büntgen1,7,8, Bruce M. S. Campbell9, Laura Fernández-Donado10, Dominik Fleitmann11, Rüdiger Glaser12, Fidel González-Rouco10, Martin Grosjean1,4, Richard C. Hoffmann13, Heli Huhtamaa1,2, Fortunat Joos1,3, Andrea Kiss14, Oldřich Kotyza15, Flavio Lehner16, Jürg Luterbacher17, Nicolas Maughan18, Raphael Neukom1,4, Theresa Novy19, Kathleen Pribyl20, Christoph C. Raible1,3, Dirk Riemann12, Maximilian Schuh21, Philip Slavin22, Johannes P. Werner23, and Oliver Wetter1,2 1Oeschger Centre for Climate Change Research, University of Bern, Bern, Switzerland
2Economic, Social, and Environmental History, Institute of History, University of Bern, Bern, Switzerland
3Climate and Environmental Physics, Physics Institute, University of Bern, Bern, Switzerland
4Institute of Geography, University of Bern, Bern, Switzerland
5German Historical Institute in Rome, Rome, Italy
6Institute of Geography, Masaryk University, Brno, Czech Republic
7Global Change Research Institute , Czech Academy of Sciences, Brno, Czech Republic
8Swiss Federal Research Institute WSL, Birmensdorf, Switzerland
9School of Geography, Archaeology and Palaeoecology, The Queen’s University of Belfast, Northern Ireland
10Institute of Geosciences, University Complutense, Madrid, Spain
11Centre for Past Climate Change, University of Reading, Whiteknights, Reading, UK
12Institute of Environmental Social Sciences and Geography, University of Freiburg, Germany
13Department of History, York University, Toronto, Canada
14Institute of Hydraulic Engineering and Water Resources Management, Vienna University of Technology, Vienna, Austria
15Regional Museum, Litoměřice, Czech Republic
16Climate & Global Dynamics Laboratory, National Center for Atmospheric Research, Boulder, USA
17Department of Geography, Climatology, Climate Dynamics and Climate Change, Justus Liebig University, Giessen, Germany
18Aix - Marseille University, Marseille, France
19Johannes Gutenberg University of Mainz, Germany
20University of East Anglia, Norwich, UK
21Heidelberg Center for the Environment, University of Heidelberg, Germany
22School of History, Rutherford College, University of Kent, Canterbury, UK
23Departme nt of Earth Science, University of Bergen, Bergen, Norway
Abstract. Throughout the last millennium, mankind was affected by prolonged deviations from the climate mean state. While periods like the Maunder Minimum in the 17th century have been assessed in greater detail, earlier cold periods such as the 15th century received much less attention due to the sparse information available. Based on new evidence from different sources ranging from proxy archives to model simulations, it is now possible to provide an end-to-end assessment about the climate state during an exceptionally cold period in the 15th century, the role of internal, unforced climate variability and external forcing in shaping these extreme climatic conditions, and the impacts on and responses of the medieval society in Central Europe. Climate reconstructions from a multitude of natural and human archives indicate that, during winter, the period of the early Spörer Minimum (1431–1440 CE) was the coldest decade in Central Europe in the 15th century. The particularly cold winters and normal but wet summers resulted in a strong seasonal cycle that challenged food production and led to increasing food prices, a subsistence crisis, and a famine in parts of Europe. As a consequence, authorities implemented adaptation measures, such as the installation of grain storage capacities, in order to be prepared for future events. The 15th century is characterised by a grand solar minimum and enhanced volcanic activity, which both imply a reduction of seasonality. Climate model simulations show that periods with cold winters and strong seasonality are associated with internal climate variability rather than external forcing. Accordingly, it is hypothesised that the reconstructed extreme climatic conditions during this decade occurred by chance and in relation to the partly chaotic, internal variability within the climate system.

Citation: Camenisch, C., Keller, K. M., Salvisberg, M., Amann, B., Bauch, M., Blumer, S., Brázdil, R., Brönnimann, S., Büntgen, U., Campbell, B. M. S., Fernández-Donado, L., Fleitmann, D., Glaser, R., González-Rouco, F., Grosjean, M., Hoffmann, R. C., Huhtamaa, H., Joos, F., Kiss, A., Kotyza, O., Lehner, F., Luterbacher, J., Maughan, N., Neukom, R., Novy, T., Pribyl, K., Raible, C. C., Riemann, D., Schuh, M., Slavin, P., Werner, J. P., and Wetter, O.: The early Spörer Minimum – a period of extraordinary climate and socio-economic changes in Western and Central Europe, Clim. Past Discuss., doi:10.5194/cp-2016-7, in review, 2016.
Chantal Camenisch et al.
Chantal Camenisch et al.
Chantal Camenisch et al.


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Short summary
Throughout the last millennium, several cold periods occurred which affected humanity. Here, we investigate an exceptionally cold decade during the 15th century. The cold conditions challenged the food production and led to increasing food prices and a famine in parts of Europe. In contrast to periods such as the “Year Without Summer” after the eruption of Tambora, these extreme climatic conditions seem to have occurred by chance and in relation to the internal variability of the climate system.
Throughout the last millennium, several cold periods occurred which affected humanity. Here, we...